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The genius replaced the fool again - 82%

kluseba, May 25th, 2014

Let’s admit that the idea to create another metal opera project isn’t all too original in times when projects like Avantasia happen to be more successful than ever. The fact that this record only appeared a few weeks after the sixth Avantasia output and that this record even features quite similar guest musicians and singers isn’t a coincidence as well. The European power metal mastermind and signature guitarist Timo Tolkki has though gone through hard times after his chaotic departure from Stratovarius, his short-lived new project Revolution Renaissance and the personal disaster of the Symfonia super-group and it’s great to have him back in form. Initially, Timo Tolkki only wanted to release a new solo record entitled “Classical Variations 2: Credo” that would have followed his first studio record back in 1994 but he canceled his PledgeMusic campaign to work on and eventually put out what we have here. This being said, I still hope for an eventual release of his solo record.

“The Land Of New Hope” might not have the most original concept even though the story itself is clearly superior to the latest Avantasia concepts and lyrics in my opinion. The fantasy and science-fiction lyrics fit much more to the musical style than the sometimes too emotionally driven lyrics by Tobias Sammet’s project. On the other side, this new record is clearly Timo Tolkki’s strongest release since the commercially successful power metal hit album “Infinite” he released back in the year 2000 with Stratovarius. This record goes back to the basics and delivers typical European power metal with a few symphonic metal elements. Let’s cite the gripping and powerful opener “Avalanche Anthem”, the emotional, fast and highly melodic “To The Edge Of The World” with its slight Dream Theater touch and “The Magic Of The Night” that reminds me of a track in the key of Stratovarius’ “Hunting High And Low” single thirteen years ago as typical genre highlights that fans are going to adore and haters are going to criticize. The usual symphonic ballad comes along with “I’ll Sing You Home” but it’s not as boring and commercial as the last Avantasia ballads and reminds me rather of the Stratovarius track “Mother Gaia”. The true highlight of this release comes with the closing epic title track “The Land Of New Hope” that has intriguing arrangements reminding me of Helloween’s legendary “Keeper Of The Seven Keys” epic. This song is all European power metal is about and guest singer Michael Kiske definitely delivers an outstanding job on this amazing album closer. Despite its length, this track never gets boring and is easily the best song on here.

That being said, the guest musicians are very well chosen for this record. Instead of adding too many cooks that spoil the broth, Timo Tolkki invited only six singers plus a soprano vocalist. These singers really add the cherry on the cake and put the essential enthusiasm, power and spirit into the solid arrangements. Let’s cite the powerful rocking vocals of Rob Rock who is involved in bands such as Impellitteri and who sounds a little bit like Jorn on the Avantasia releases. One must also point out the grounded, powerful and quite variable vocals of Amaranthe singer Elize Ryd. This Swedish powerhouse is one of the best female singers in the metal scene and should become the next big thing as well. I had heard a lot of positive comments on her before but I didn’t expect her to be that enthusiastic and technically skilled as she appears to be on this record. I will surely take a closer look at her career by now. Michael Kiske only appears on the closing title track but he easily delivers his very best vocal duties since the golden age of Helloween back in the late eighties. He doesn’t seem to have lost anything of his impressive vocal range in the last twenty-five years and his vocals still send shivers down my spine. Other singers are Sharon den Adel of Within Temptation, Russell Allen of Symphony X and Tony Kakko of Sonata Arctica. They deliver solid jobs but can’t keep up with the other three ones. Let’s not forget about the musicians who are all big names of the power metal scene as well. We get drummer Alex Holzwarth of Rhapsody Of Fire as well as three keyboarders in form of Mikko Härkin of Cain's Offering and who has already been part of bands like Sonata Arctica, Stratovarius keyboarder Jens Johansson and finally Derek Sherinian who is currently involved in the band of Billy Idol and who has already been a member of Dream Theater. As you can see, there was a lot of quality personal involved on this project and there are two more records to come that should complete what is supposed to become a trilogy.

In the end, this release doesn’t reinvent the genre and somewhat jumps on the bandwagon but it’s a truly well-crafted European power metal release that reminds you of many classic songs and records that have been written in the last three decades. This release has an interesting background story, a beautiful cover artwork, a very good production, a clear and coherent guiding and a bunch of highly talented guest singers who really make this record stand out. Genre fans should definitely get this release because of its surprisingly great quality. Anybody else can skip it because this release doesn’t offer anything really new.

Originally written for The Metal Observer

Less is more - 80%

Khat57, June 3rd, 2013

With Stratovarius' "Nemesis" out earlier this year, the band saw its sound branch out in many many ways. In fact, the band's sound has expanded exponentially since axe-slinger Timo Tolkki left in 2008. (was kicked out? I dunno, I try not to get involved in the politics of bands) And what has Timo Tolkki been up to in that time? Umm... Let's not. I still have weird dreams of Andre Matos becoming a hot-air balloon from all the helium he inhaled recording Symfonia's "In Paradisum." After Symfonia broke up at the end of 2011, not too long after the release of their only album, Timo hinted at the possibility of never returning to the music business.

I dunno what happened to make Timo Tolkki want to return to the music world, but I'm glad it happened. In these times of power metal bands trying to beat the speed of sound (Pathfinder and DragonForce) or bordering on self-parody by taking pride in its extremism and ridiculousness (Gloryhammer), Timo Tolkki's "The Land of New Hope" is a refreshingly scaled-back and modest effort with big-budget names attached to it, including Russell Allen, Tony Kakko, and Rob Rock. Sure, there are some symphonic theatrics to be had here, but they accentuate the songs rather than bombast your ears with MIDI patches. *glares at Wintersun*

Sure, this album isn't chock full of riffs. Sure, the songs get a little repetitive (particularly "In The Name of the Rose"). Sure, the concept is a little cliche and cheesy (the last inhabitants of earth trying to survive and resurrect civilization... I swear, Arjen Anthony Lucassen has covered this one). But dammit, there's heart behind this, something that's been missing in Timo Tolkki's multitude of post-Strato projects, made all the better by the vast (but still small compared to something like Avantasia) round-up of guest vocalists giving it their all. Rob Rock and Tony Kakko take "We Will Find A Way" and turn what could have been a pretty generic upbeat Euro-power metal tune into something a bit more. Russell Allen gives his best vocal performance in the last half-decade on this album easily, in my humble opinion. And then there's Michael Goddamn Kiske triumphantly doing the 9-minute title track solo, hitting high notes with as much ease as he was 25 years ago with Helloween. He really makes the song.

If you've been disappointed by Timo Tolkki's post-Strato work, give this one an honest shot. It hardly reinvents the wheel as far as power or symphonic metal goes and it's slightly derivative of Tobias Sammett's Avantasia project but it's still a damn fun ride with a lot of familiar faces (voices). The only real complaint I have is that Elize Ryd gets maybe a little too much attention for someone with such a "meh" voice. Not that she's bad or anything, just not particularly memorable. But other than that, definitely recommended for fans of the typical Euro-power metal sound.

An opera to one man's tenacity. - 83%

hells_unicorn, June 2nd, 2013

Music isn't something that a person can just up and quit, as the recent reformation of Metal Church and Running Wild after folding up the tents a few years prior suggest. Similarly, in spite of the short-live post-Stratovarius projects Revolution Renaissance and Symfonia, Timo Tolkki is at it again, and with the same familiar formula that has been employed since his much lauded songwriting on "Visions". Naturally there is an unofficial rivalry that has developed between the former Stratovarius band leader and the continuing project that kept the name, but 2013 has brought about the greatest contrast between the two, resulting in a division of die-hard conservatism on the part of Tolkki and a progressive, visionary album in "Nemesis" in the other camp, all in spite of the former's newest project being dubbed a "metal opera".

Timo Tolkki sort of fell into the Avantasia-like set up that he has now made his own back in 2008 when he salvaged what would have been a needed return to form after Stratovarius' disastrous "self-titled" flop by using session musicians and vocalists, culminating in the first Revolution Renaissance album "New Era". However, lacking any kind of a coherent concept and largely being thrown together based on who was available at the time, it didn't enjoy the level of focus that it needed to compete with the formidable "Polaris". By contrast, "The Land Of New Hope" sees a very clear, albeit cliche concept of a post-apocalyptic world where an elite group of survivors struggle to resurrect civilization, and with a likely cast of vocal characters that have largely filtered in and out of Avantasia up until the present day.

Though the center of gravity for this project is not a vocalist, much of this album is dominated by Elize Ryd and Rob Rock, the former almost to the point of rivaling Tobais Sammet's presence on the first two "Metal Opera" albums. Her voice is universally angelic and powerful, in something of a power metal version of Celine Dion, and fills up the air quite nicely both on rocking anthems like "Shine" and the two piano dominated ballads "In The Name Of The Rose" and "I'll SIng You Home" (the latter has a verse melody that sounds like it was partially lifted from "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You"). Rob Rock provides much of the needed power metal stereotypes and basically brings this as close as possible to being a Stratovarius album, and particularly shines on "To The Edge Of The World", a song that reminds heavily of the triumphant late 90s speeder off of "Visions".

The most striking element at play in this fairly standard power metal affair is literally just how standard it actually is. Apparently just about all of Timo Tolkki's desire for experimentation went out the window with his last solo album, save the closing epic title track which features Michael Kiske still singing up in the stratosphere as competently as he did in 1987. In many ways this song takes its cues from Timo's previous collaboration with the former Helloween front man on his second solo effort "Hymn Of Life", functioning as sort of an epic half-ballad and largely focusing on the prowess of the vocalist. Actually, the entire album spends much of its time catering to the vocalist and only gives occasional attention to the orchestration and Tolkki's own technical ability as a guitar player. Save a rather impressive keyboard vs. guitar solo extravaganza on "To The Edge Of The World", much of this album tends to be pretty formulaic and plain.

Whether or not one takes to this album is a pretty easy question to answer, given that Tolkki is still putting out material reminiscent of better days when the power metal genre was focused on being both catchy and fast, rather than just the former. It's mostly comparable to his brief stint Symfonia and his first effort with Revolution Renaissance, though at times it does want to also sound like "The Metal Opera: Part 2". Unfortunately it comes up a bit short on riff work and since Timo also handles the bass work on here, things tend to largely have an AC/DC meets Judas Priest flavor where the bare minimum is done to provide a bottom end yet it scarcely stands out. But for those looking for a beautiful chorus section to sing along with and a lot of pristine keyboard and orchestration work that doesn't rob the principle band instruments of prominence, this is a pretty safe bet. Think of it as the kind of album "New Era" could have been had more time been taken to refine it and unlock more of its potential.

Promising new start but also a missed opportunity - 70%

aplws, May 31st, 2013

Timo Tolkki returns with a new metal opera project. The Land Of New Hope is an interesting album with some excellent performances, but the overall result falls a little short.

The ex-Stratovarius mastermind handles the songwriting and plays both the guitars as well as the bass on his latest undertaking. The drumming is handled by the talented Alex Holzwarth (Rhapsody Of Fire), while the keyboards are performed by the virtuosos Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater), Jens Johansson (Stratovarius) and Mikko Harkin (Sonata Arctica). The majority of the vocal duties are assigned to Elize Ryd (Amaranthe) and Rob Rock (Impellitteri). Michael Kiske (ex-Helloween, Unisonic) sings the epic title track and Russell Allen (Symphony X), Sharon Den Adel (Within Temptation) and Tony Kakko (Sonata Arctica) share vocals on some songs.

The music on offer ranges from double bass driven power metal to melodic hard rock, pop-rock and a few softer ballads. Some of the songs contain orchestrations and choirs which enable them to sound very big and bombastic. The album as a whole sounds homogenous and contains plenty of variety, but only a handful of individual songs manage to shine.

The opener "Avalanche Anthem" starts the album very successfully . The intro is fully orchestrated and fast, while he rest of the song continues in a mid-tempo melodic metal manner, with captivating vocal transitions between Elize Ryd, Russell Allen and Rob Rock. "In the Name of the Rose" is another stand out song with a captivating chorus. It starts in a balladry fashion with some softer singing by Ryd and after the first chorus it switches to a slower tempo rock song carried by Allen. "We Will Find a Way" sees Rob Rock dueling with Tony Kakko in a successful up-beat melodic metal tune. "I'll Sing You Home" is the album's second female fronted ballad and it is pretty great. "The Land Of New Hope" is the longest and most epic song on the album and a wink to Helloween's Keeper Of The Seven Keys. Michael Kiske handles the vocals and he truly makes this song an absolute highlight. This is another orchestral offering with several tempo changes and the most memorable chorus on offer.

The rest of the tracks fall a little short, due to some unimpressive performances, dull choruses or strong resemblances to Tolkki's past efforts. This is truly unfortunate because there was definitely a lot of potential here that could have resulted in a monumental album.

The Land Of New Hope remains a good but not great metal opera offering. This is the first release of a trilogy of albums that will be recorded by Timo Tolkki's Avalon project, so there is still hope for a future masterpiece.

(Originally written for http://www.amazon.co.uk website)

Could have been better. - 70%

Immortally_Insane, May 26th, 2013

I suppose if there were anything on this planet I could actually say was made better by the existence of ABBA, it would be that they helped inspire Timo Tolkki. Tolkki is a heavy metal legend best known for his work as a guitarist and songwriter in power metal giant, Stratovarius. Of course after ABBA, Tolkki later discovered guitarists such as Yngwie Malmsteen and Randy Rhoads, and ultimately developed into the virtuoso most power metal fans know him as today. His latest project, Timo Tolkki’s Avalon is another supergroup in the mirror of his previous supergroup acts. Featuring high-profile names such as Russell Allen (Symphony X), Tony Kakko (Sonata Arctica), Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation) and Michael Kiske (Unisonic, ex-Helloween) this is a promising future indeed for our beloved Timo.

The debut is a concept album that Tolkki hails as a Metal Opera. It is set in the year 2055, after the Earth is nearly destroyed by natural disasters, a group of people band together in search of The Land of New Hope, which you guessed it, is the title of the album. It starts off with an ever-epic track “Avalanche Anthem” with perfect orchestration, nicely paced drum work, and great vocal presence. Unfortunately, at times the chorus work gets repetitive and boring, and in true power metal fashion it is layered to high heaven. That being said, the music itself is quite memorable. “Enshrined in My Memory” should spark an interest for any Symfonia die-hards out there, as it is a straight copy of the melody from “Rhapsody in Black”. This track, sung entirely by Elize Ryd (Amaranthe), sounds like a true classic power metal song in every way, complete with a soaring guitar solo, and the drums are very traditional in the cymbal heavy rock n’ roll style.

The album features a full run of classic power metal sounds, to more modern tracks like “We Will Find a Way” featuring Rob Rock (Impellitteri) and Tony Kakko (Sonata Arctica) who play off of each other perfectly. Unfortunately, the music seems like it’s just all been done before. Probably put out by Stratovarius themselves or even Cain’s Offering. Considering keyboards are provided on the album by Jens Johansson (Stratovarius) and Mikko Härkin (Cain’s Offering) all that seems to be missing is Timo Kotipelto.

“Magic of the Night” is a blend of something along the lines of techno and power metal, but features more gritty vocals from Rob Rock. Even the guitar solo seems more in your face and dirty than any other on the album. Anthem-like tracks such as “To the Edge of the Earth” and “A World Without Us” stand out on the album, especially thanks to the vocal presence of Russell Allen on the latter. Russell meets Rob is a recipe for perfection, nearly as good as Russell meets Jorn.

Timo Tolkki is a fabulous musician and deserves all of the credit in the world that he receives for his work. A great example of this is the album’s epic, “The Land of New Hope”, bringing our journey to its close. Michael Kiske’s piercing voice soars over distorted guitars ever so perfectly, and although the song runs long, the arrangement is just incredible. I couldn’t think of any other better way to end such an epic release. While it’s not a release to go down into the book of heavy metal for generations to come, it is still a powerful release of beautiful symphonic metal music. Tolkki gets to add another great project into his already impressive and beefy resume, and power metal fans everywhere get to hear musicians they love singing and playing all new tracks (for the most part anyway) orchestrated by the wonderful Sami Boman, who has been at this music thing since 1995. Rest assured, The Land of New Hope is definitely worth checking out.

[Originally written for Metalholic.com]